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Spotlight: Q&A with Christy Cochrane, Federal Contracting Program Coordinator, Office of Sponsored Programs

Christy Cochrane portrait.
Christy Cochrane

In her role, Christy Cochrane is inspired by each new contract she reviews. She says each reflects the impactful, cutting-edge research efforts that are being executed throughout the university by world-class faculty at Virginia Tech.

How does your background contribute to where you are right now in your career?

The combination of my education and on-the-job training prepared me for a career in federal government contract negotiation. After receiving my undergraduate degree in finance, I was selected to serve as a civilian employee within the United States Navy’s Naval Acquisition Development Program in Washington, D.C. Through comprehensive training courses at the Defense Acquisition University as well as challenging rotational assignments, I gained invaluable experience in all aspects of the solicitation development and contract negotiation, execution, administration, and closeout processes during this three year program. This included a strong understanding of the complex regulatory environment that applies to all federal contracts. I use these skills daily within my role in the Office of Sponsored Programs in discussions with principal investigators regarding the salient terms included within their contracts as well as within the negotiation of these agreements. 

The multimillion dollar, multifaceted contracts that I negotiated for the Navy were extremely time-sensitive, deadline driven, and involved many stakeholders. Effective communication skills were key, especially on several occasions when I briefed the head of the Navy command and received approval to proceed forward with contract execution. Strong communication is also of extreme importance within the agreements that we negotiate on the contracts team within the Office of Sponsored Programs, as it allows for us to build strong relationships with our sponsors and understand the unique perspectives and requirements of the principal investigators that we support.

Christy Cochrane picture in front of a ship.
Prior to her current role at Virginia Tech, Cochrane was entrusted with a contracting officer’s warrant that provided her with the authority to negotiate and execute contracts for the U.S. Navy. She credits the experience gained during that time as helping her in her position within the Office of Sponsored Programs.

Due to my belief in the importance of helping others, the humanitarian relief efforts executed by the Navy that I had the opportunity to support were my most rewarding assignments. In addition to my regular workload, I volunteered to negotiate several expedited contracts during Operation Unified Response to provide aid immediately following the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti. These relief efforts also included the deployment of Military Sealift Command’s hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20). 

Based upon my experience, I was entrusted by the Navy with a contracting officer’s warrant that gave me the authority to sign and execute contracts on behalf of the U.S government. In having served in that role, I am able to provide a unique perspective and possess direct knowledge of the requirements and challenges that Virginia Tech’s federal government sponsors face. This allows for me to convey that understanding and empathy in all my negotiations in my role within the Office of Sponsored Programs. I am also able to anticipate our sponsors’ needs in order to be proactive and to streamline the contract negotiation process.  

What support do you provide for the research community?

As the federal contracting program coordinator for the Office of Sponsored Programs, I actively support the negotiation of a variety of complex federal contracts and agreements for sponsored research across the university. I work closely with principal investigators to gain an understanding of their unique requirements and to help ensure that they are informed throughout the negotiation process. I advise them regarding the terms and conditions included within their contracts, which involves summarizing the requirements included within Federal Acquisition Regulation contract clauses and their implications on the proposed research efforts. Depending on the terms included within the contract, the Office of Sponsored Programs engages with many stakeholders throughout the university during the negotiation process.

In addition, given the ever changing landscape of federal regulations pertaining to contracts, I work to make certain that our agreements, templates, and training materials reflect the most current federal requirements to ensure compliance. I review new rules documented within the Federal Register, analyze their impacts to the Office of Sponsored Programs as well as other key stakeholders across the university, and respectfully provide suggested paths forward to leadership for their consideration.  This enhances the ability of the Office of Sponsored Programs to proactively support our researchers by communicating helpful information regarding these items.

By engaging with Virginia Tech’s outstanding undergraduate students through internships, the Office of Sponsored Programs allows for these talented individuals to apply skills learned in the classroom while simultaneously gaining knowledge and an appreciation of sponsored programs and contract administration. This affords me with the opportunity to serve as a mentor in training and fostering the professional development and growth of these exceptional students. 

Group photo including Christy Cochrane alongside members of a university service organization.
While pursuing her MBA, Cochrane served on the leadership team for one of the university’s service organizations. She currently volunteers for professional organizations within the contract negotiation field as giving back to the research administration community is of great importance to her.

How has COVID-19 positively impacted the way you do your job today?

COVID-19 has expedited the use of electronic systems and processes across the Federal Government’s acquisition community. This has spearheaded the creation of efficiencies that may have otherwise taken additional time to implement.

Furthermore, it has been exceptionally rewarding to assist with the execution of sponsored research agreements that have provided funding to Virginia Tech’s dedicated and talented faculty to facilitate COVID-19 related projects.  

What inspires you?

It is such an honor to have the opportunity to serve within the Office of Sponsored Programs and to be afforded the chance to negotiate the agreements that allow for the execution of research that, in keeping with Virginia Tech’s mission, will improve the quality of life and the human condition within the Commonwealth of Virginia and throughout the world. I am continually motivated and inspired with each new contract that I review, as I see firsthand the impactful, cutting-edge research efforts that are being executed throughout the university by Virginia Tech’s world-class faculty. 

 Being a part of an outstanding team that accomplishes extraordinary things together is exceptionally fulfilling. The dedicated professionals across the Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation continually inspire me with their determination and commitment to provide guidance and support across the research enterprise and I am fortunate to be a part of this outstanding organization.  

When do you think you are at your best, professionally?

I believe that I excel when I am working on challenging assignments in a team environment in which I am able to help others succeed. Engaging with Virginia Tech’s faculty to ensure that the terms and conditions that are included within their contracts afford them with the flexibility they need to meet the mission requirements of their research while simultaneously ensuring compliance with all applicable laws, regulations, and university policies is extremely rewarding. 

In keeping with Virginia Tech’s motto of Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), I believe that it is vitally important to give back to the research administration and contract negotiation professions by serving as an ambassador in providing training opportunities based upon experiences gained to share best practices. For example, I have volunteered to present training sessions on relevant contractual topics pertaining to research for the National Council of University Research Administrators and Virginia Continuing Legal Education.  In addition, I have served in a variety of leadership roles, most recently as president, within the National Contract Management Association’s Blue Ridge Chapter.  

In what ways does Virginia Tech’s Principles of Community guide you?

Virginia Tech’s Principles of Community serve as the bedrock for sound contract negotiation and execution. Building strong relationships with our sponsors as well as our internal stakeholders is of vital importance throughout the negotiation process.  Moreover, fostering an environment of mutual respect and understanding is key to establishing trust and cultivating lasting partnerships. Allowing for the expression of thoughts and opinions freely within a climate of civility, sensitivity, and mutual respect allows for the creation and development of terms and conditions within our agreements that are mutually agreeable to all parties involved.

Christy Cochrane standing on the beach in San Diego.
While working for the U.S. Navy, Cochrane traveled to many locations to provide support, including Naval Base Point Loma in San Diego, which is shown on the horizon.

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